Environmental toxic tort cases often pose difficult problems of proof A substance’s toxicity may be unknown or uncertain. A combination of factors may cause a plaintiffs injury, and the injury may arise many years after a plaintiff’s exposure to a toxic substance. On the one hand, some plaintiffs, particularly those with “signature” illnesses or whose illnesses occur as a cluster of cases, may be able to gather sufficient evidence to support a tort action. On the other hand, it is likely that many environmental injury victims simply fail to recognize their illnesses as tortious injuries and never receive compensation. Cancer and various respiratory ailments, for instance, can resultfrom exposure to commonly found and commonly released pollutants. Because of the difficulty of identifying potential defendants and proving causation, such cases simply fall outside of the tort system. This leaves social costs externalized and victims uncompensated.

In response to this problem, this Article proposes a risk-based administrative system of liability and compensation for exposure to environmental pollutants. At the time pollutants are released, major pollution emitters would pay levies. The levies would be based on the amount of pollutants discharged, the likely exposure of persons to those pollutants, the risk of harmfrom that exposure, and the expected costs of that harm to the victims. Individuals would receive compensation according to the health risk borne by each person as a result of their exposure to the pollution. This compensation-for-risk approach avoids troublesome case-by-case determinations of specific causation. This approach also provides compensation prior to illness, which may facilitate preventive measures. Although the scientific information necessary to support such a system is not yet available, advances in toxic ogenomics, biomonitoring, and environmental monitoring will permit implementation of such a system in the not-too-distantfuture.

Every year the Army Corps of Engineers receives over 74,500 applications for permits under section 404(a) of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”), the provision regulating the discharge of fill or dredged material into the nation’s waters. Consequently, when the Supreme Court granted certiorari for Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“SWANCC”) – a case potentially affecting the status of millions of acres of American wetlands – property owners, developers, and environmentalists alike were wise to stand up and take notice.

The SWANCC case involved a Chicago-area consortium of municipalities that sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) for denying them a permit to develop a landfill on an abandoned mining site because the Corps had determined the land in question was inhabited by migratory birds. The central issue presented in SWANCC was whether this “Migratory Bird Rule” – a regulation promulgated in 1986 giving the Corps authority over wetlands populated by migrating birds – was a proper exercise of jurisdiction under the CWA. The municipalities argued that the rule exceeded the Corps’ authority because the CWA was meant to only regulate waters that are navigable or that adjoin navigable waterways. On the other hand, the Corps argued that its jurisdiction is not limited by traditional notions of navigability; rather it has authority over the nation’s waters to the fullest extent of the Commerce Clause.